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Berkeley record store clerk Nick Brady (Jonathan Scarfe) begins to experience strange visions from an entity he calls VALIS that cause him to uproot his family and move to Los Angeles where he becomes a successful music company executive. With the help of best friend, science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick himself (Shea Whigam) and a mysterious woman named Silvia (Alanis Morissette), Nick finds himself drawn into a dangerous political-mystical conspiracy of cosmic proportions. The story is set in an alternate reality America circa 1985 under the authoritarian control of President Fremont, a Nixon-like clone (Scott Wilson). Written by
Radio Free LLC
Radio Free Albemuth is a unique, faithful homage to PKD
What does that mean? The movie Radio Free Albemuth is a carefully crafted adaptation of a novel by Philip K. Dick.
Critics who claim the story is disjointed or difficult to follow cannot blame the film makers. Blame Phil for that. If you're not up for a mind-boggling mixture of political conspiracy theories combined with an ancient alien satellite that beams insights and information to one of the main characters, Nicholas Brady (who happens to be remarkably like the real-life author), all witnessed by his worried friend Phil the writer (who truly is based on PKD), then perhaps you should click on over to something more sedate and sensible. If you've never heard of Philip K. Dick, who knows this could be your gateway movie. You might get hooked.
PKD is famous for blending philosophical, theological and political intrigue into one story, and not some huge, winding tome. He could do it in a short story or 200-page pulp fiction back in the day. Does it translate to the screen? Other movie makers have taken PKD concepts like futuristic "thought police", who can catch criminals before they commit the crime, and turned it into a Tom Cruise thriller (Minority Report, 2002.) Or, more recently another PKD short story about psychosis vs. actual metaphysical interference with Earth, was turned into a fantasy Rom-Com (The Adjustment Bureau, 2011.) This is true of around a dozen PKD story-to-movie adaptations. What makes Radio Free Albemuth unique, and worth the high rating, is that writer/director John Alan Simon stayed faithful to the original PKD story.
So, do I recommend it? Yes! You might not read a Philip K. Dick novel, so for a few bucks you can find out what a real Phil story is like. Over on Amazon.com, I went so far as to say RFA should be mandatory viewing for everyone under thirty, or for anyone who has forgotten or doesn't believe that history repeats itself. Given the current NSA surveillance tactics and increasing militarization of local police forces in America, Radio Free definitely has an important message. Just remember, it's not a straightforward path.
You also get to see Shea Whigham (Eli on HBO's Boardwalk Empire) play PKD, watch Alanis Morissette sing and act, and gaze at the beautiful Katheryn Winnick, of the TV Vikings series, as Nick Brady's confused and conflicted wife. As Phiip K. Dick's real-life widow says, "if you want action, watch Transformers." RFA is about interaction; rich in dialog, political intrigue, and subliminal communication. There's also the mystical and mysterious visions too that the film makers portray exactly as some of us long-time PKD fans have wanted to see. Bottom line: Radio Free Albemuth is a faithful portrayal of PKD's fears about the future at a time when it couldn't be more relevant. Watch and join the conspiracy!
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